Thursday 6 May 2010

Biden courts Parliament with Security's "Terrible Beauty"

US Vice-President Joe Biden gave a 30 minute speech to the European Parliament in Brussels today. The first half of the speech was taken up with flattery for the EP, invoking powerful imagery of the EP and Congress jointly representing 800 million people (the EP 500 million of those). A comment that got particular attention on Twitter was that Brussels had as equal right as Washington to the title of "capital of the free world".

I was a bit confused with a reference he made to Yeats early in his speech when talking about how the EP and the EU have changed and remarking on President Regan's visit to the EP in 1985. Biden suddenly quoted Yeats' poem "Easter, 1916", which is about the Easter Rising - "All is changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born." I'm not sure if it was a slip in concentration on my part, or strange delivery on Biden's, but it sounded like he was comparing Irish revolutionary violence to the EU's formation and change.

Halfway through his speech, it became clear that he was referring to the security challenges in today's world. And at this point the speech became a diplomatic courting of the EP to get its support for US security interests. The lobbying for SWIFT was particularly blatant, with Biden explaining the long history of privacy protection in the US and his deep respect for the value, before turning to security as an "equally inalienable" value. Message: we need this information for protection.

Though obviously angling for the EP's backing on the EU-US deal, if changes are made to SWIFT to include safeguards, it could be helpful in winning over support. Biden talked about understanding, listening and responding to the concerns of Parliament over civil liberties - let's see if it's followed up with action.

Biden also raised concerns over nuclear proliferation (i.e. North Korea and Iran), and regional destabilisation. He said that the US supports security co-operation between NATO and the EU.

Overall, it seemed to be a speech that got sucked up into the "terrible beauty" of security issues, and it didn't touch much on economic issues, apart from a self-congratulatory mention that the US and EU had prevented a global economic depression. Though the EP is severely limited when it comes to security, it shows how the Parliament has gained in importance and power over the last few years, and how the US is keen on developing links with it so that there won't be the shock defeat of a matter dear to Washington's heart. The European Parliament's opinion matters, and it will have to be negotiated with and listened to.


  1. Eurocentric, both you and Julien Frisch have dissected the Biden speech in pretty much the same manner: phrases about liberties, concrete calls for more repressive policies (security).

    There is - or at least, should be - so much more to transatlantic relations: financial markets, trade, energy, environment, climate...

  2. Exactly - environment and economy only got a few passing mentions, which is very strange, when you consider that the EP has more power and influence under trade, economic and environmental policy areas...

    Especially when it comes to reforming the banking system, you would think that that would be a big issue up for discussion. Hopefully they're discussing it behind the scenes, if nothing else. I suppose enivronmental issues may be more touchy, since the US has some catching up to do, and the EU was unhappy with being shut out of negotiations at COP15.